In Md., over­haul of re­dis­trict­ing is look­ing un­likely

SOME AR­GUE LAW­MAK­ERS WON’T NE­GO­TI­ATE Pub­lic fa­vors in­stalling an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY JOSH HICKS

Mary­land’s elected lead­ers seem un­likely to ne­go­ti­ate a deal this year to end par­ti­san ger­ry­man­der­ing, de­spite over­whelm­ing pub­lic sup­port for re­dis­trict­ing re­vi­sions, pres­sure from ci­ti­zen groups to reach a com­pro­mise and a fed­eral law­suit that could force the state to over­haul its vot­ing maps for up­com­ing elec­tions.

More than two weeks af­ter Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R) ve­toed plans to pur­sue a re­gional re­dis­trict­ing com­pact and in­sisted that Mary­land should act alone, the state’s top Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic of­fi­cials re­main sharply di­vided on the is­sue and have made no ef­forts to merge their pro­pos­als.

“Pulling these par­ties to­gether could be the trick­i­est piece,” said Jen­nifer Be­van-Dan­gel, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Com­mon Cause Mary­land, which is urg­ing the two sides to meet this sum­mer and ham­mer out an agree­ment be­fore next year’s leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

A Fe­bru­ary Goucher Col­lege poll showed that 73 per­cent of Mary­lan­ders would pre­fer that an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion de­ter­mine the state’s vot­ing dis­tricts, with over­whelm­ing sup­port for the con­cept across party lines. Only 20 per­cent said they want elected of­fi­cials to con­tinue form­ing the dis­tricts, which have been called among the most con­vo­luted in the na­tion.

For the past two years, Ho­gan has pro­posed putting a non­par­ti­san panel in charge of re­dis­trict­ing for con­gres­sional and leg­isla­tive dis­tricts. His bills have died with­out a floor vote in the state leg­is­la­ture, where Democrats hold strong ma­jori­ties in both cham­bers.

Democrats say they don’t want to change the map-draw­ing process for Mary­land, where their party has a more than 2-to-1 voter­reg­is­tra­tion ad­van­tage over the GOP, while Repub­li­can-con­trolled states con­tinue ger­ry­man­der­ing.

In Vir­ginia, where Re­pub­li­cans hold ma­jori­ties in both leg­isla­tive cham­bers, three bills aimed at en­sur­ing non­par­ti­san re­dis­trict­ing failed this year af­ter pass­ing with bi­par­ti­san sup­port in the Se­nate.

Mary­land’s leg­is­la­ture this year ap­proved a pro­posal to cre­ate an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion to draw the vot­ing maps, but only for con­gres­sional dis­tricts, and only if five other states agree to the same plan. Law­mak­ers from both par­ties would ap­point mem­bers of the panel.

Ho­gan ve­toed the mea­sure, which he called a “phony bill mas­querad­ing as re­dis­trict­ing re­form” and vowed to con­tinue fight­ing for his own pro­posal.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arun­del) and Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) re­sponded with a joint state­ment say­ing the gov­er­nor “prefers his plan to sim­ply elect more Re­pub­li­cans to Congress.”

Com­mon Cause and the Mary­land League of Women Vot­ers ap­plauded Ho­gan’s veto, say­ing the Democrats’ bill set an “im­pos­si­bly high bar” with its re­quire­ment for five other states to join a re­dis­trict­ing com­pact. The ad­vo­cacy groups also crit­i­cized the mea­sure for not ad­dress­ing leg­isla­tive dis­tricts.

“It was a feel-good bill that made them feel like they did some­thing,” said Nancy Soreng, co-pres­i­dent of the Mary­land League of Women Vot­ers. “It just gave Mary­land an ex­cuse to sit back and do noth­ing.”

Democrats could en­act their bill next year by over­rid­ing the gov­er­nor’s veto, and they had enough votes to do so when they passed the bill this year. But Busch and Miller have not said pub­licly what they want their pow­er­ful An­napo­lis cau­cuses to do next.

Del. Kir­ill Reznik (D-Mont­gomery), who pro­posed the House ver­sion of the mul­ti­state plan, said he is open to work­ing on a com­pro­mise mea­sure, but he doesn’t think the gov­er­nor is will­ing to budge.

“He wants his bill and no other plan,” Reznick said. “He has to sig­nal that he’s open to some kind of mul­ti­state so­lu­tion be­fore we move for­ward.”

Ho­gan spokesman Doug Mayer said the gov­er­nor sees lit­tle room for com­pro­mise on the mat­ter and has no plans for reach­ing out to Democrats.

“We’re al­ways will­ing to talk to peo­ple and find ways to make things work, but this is an is­sue of right ver­sus wrong, and there’s not a lot of mid­dle ground,” he said.

The fed­eral ju­di­ciary might force state of­fi­cials into ac­tion, de­pend­ing upon the out­comes of three ger­ry­man­der­ing law­suits, in­clud­ing one in Mary­land.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in the past that racial ger­ry­man­der­ing vi­o­lates the Vot­ing Rights Act. But it has never adopted a stan­dard for strik­ing down par­ti­san ma­nip­u­la­tion, de­spite say­ing the prac­tice could be un­con­sti­tu­tional. Plain­tiffs at­tor­neys are now test­ing a new le­gal ap­proach, ar­gu­ing that par­ti­san ger­ry­man­der­ing in Mary­land, North Carolina and Wis­con­sin vi­o­lates the First Amend­ment by pre­vent­ing peo­ple of a par­tic­u­lar po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sion from elect­ing their pre­ferred rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

In Mary­land, plain­tiffs lawyers are ask­ing a three-judge panel of the U.S. Dis­trict Court in Green­belt to block the state from en­forc­ing its con­gres­sional map. The at­tor­neys are hop­ing for a rul­ing in their fa­vor this fall, which could force the leg­is­la­ture to draw a new map be­fore the June 2018 pri­mary.

“It may be the courts that fi­nally put some fair­ness into the process,” Soreng said.

Be­van-Dan­gel, of Com­mon Cause, sees room for Ho­gan and Demo­cratic lead­ers to com­pro­mise. She said, for ex­am­ple, that they could agree to leg­is­la­tion putting an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion in charge of re­dis­trict­ing while only en­cour­ag­ing other states to fol­low suit, rather than mak­ing the change con­tin­gent upon a re­gional com­pact.

Or, Mary­land of­fi­cials could stag­ger im­ple­men­ta­tion of the plan so that the change af­fects only con­gres­sional maps for the next round of re­dis­trict­ing, Be­van-Dan­gel said, al­low­ing law­mak­ers to work out any kinks in the sys­tem be­fore us­ing it to re­draw leg­isla­tive maps down the line.

Ad­di­tion­ally, she said they could ne­go­ti­ate how to form the in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion, re­ly­ing on models in other states for ideas.

In Cal­i­for­nia, state au­di­tors se­lect dozens of ap­pli­cants from a pool, then use a lot­tery to nar­row the field to eight com­mis­sion­ers, who then pick six more peo­ple for a panel of five Democrats, five Re­pub­li­cans and four un­af­fil­i­ated mem­bers.

In Ari­zona, the state’s Com­mis­sion on Ap­pel­late Court Appointments nom­i­nates 25 ap­pli­cants, and party lead­ers in both leg­isla­tive cham­bers ap­point two mem­bers apiece from that group. The ap­pointees then pick a fifth mem­ber.

Com­mon Cause and the League of Women Vot­ers plan to spend the sum­mer press­ing Mary­land’s top of­fi­cials to work on a re­dis­trict­ing-over­haul agree­ment and en­cour­ag­ing part­ner or­ga­ni­za­tions in other states to do the same.

They will also ask the Ho­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion’ s re­dis­trict­ing over haul task force to hold ad­di­tional pub­lic meet­ings in ur­ban ar­eas to ad­dress con­cerns that the work group, which was formed in 2015, didn’t fo­cus enough on such com­mu­ni­ties.

The groups’ other plans in­clude pub­lic out­reach ef­forts. In the past, they or­ga­nized the Ger­ry­man­der Me­an­der, a re­lay trac­ing the state’s con­torted 3rd Con­gres­sional Dis­trict; and mock birth­day cel­e­bra­tions for ger­ry­man­der­ing’s name­sake, for­mer Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor and U.S. vice pres­i­dent El­bridge Gerry.

Be­van-Dan­gel said her group has dis­cussed bring­ing for­mer Cal­i­for­nia gov­er­nor Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger (R) to Mary­land this year to pro­mote his state’s re­dis­trict­ing model.

She said Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can lead­ers in the state should work to­ward an agree­ment be­fore the 2018 elec­tion be­cause “ei­ther party could end up suf­fer­ing if they’re seen to blame for re­dis­trict­ing re­form not hap­pen­ing when it could have.”

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